What’s in a name?

Nissan Tiida

Nissan is happily shooting itself in the foot again. Why? Because it refuses to see that it is not doing well in the ‘name game’. I refer to its latest offering to the world in the small/medium car stakes, a thing which they have called the Tee Double I Dee Ay, written as Tiida and pronounced “Teeda”. I am sure it means something wonderful in Japan, but the English speaking world is very wary of buying something they cannot recognize, let alone pronounce. It has been for sale in Australia for a few months and the showrooms are hardly full to bursting with prospects. The community apathy is such that their local marketing people are trying to get across the message that it is the replacement for the old Pulsar, a name that people did relate to. In Thailand, the Tiida appellation might have more of a success as apparently Tida (single “I”) is a very polite word for ‘daughter’ in the upper levels of society. However, we shall see.
Nissan has had some dreadful names in the past, take for example their ‘luxury’ car which they called the Cedric. With apologies to all those people who have had the misfortune to be christened Cedric by their parents, who obviously exhibited latent psychopathic traits, who is going to proudly buy a car called a Cedric? “Come and look at my new Cedric!” You have got to be joking! It is actually in Nissan’s favor, I suppose, that they didn’t call the next one the Cecil!
Mind you, Nissan is not the only company to pick some dreadful names. Remember the Cressida from Toyota? Actually this was quite a good car, but the name! It didn’t sell because Toyota got the name game wrong.

Slick and Small is the way to Haul

The above title used to be the slogan of a magazine called Fast Fours and Rotaries, dedicated to small performance cars, usually owned by impecunious young drivers. And we’ve all been there!
However, “slick and small” is becoming the province of all drivers these days, as the fuel prices continue to rise ($74 per barrel as I write this, and it will be $100 by the end of the year, says my crystal ball). The end result is such that the automakers who will do well have some slick and smalls for sale. The companies that will not do so well are those who are still thinking large capacity engines, and if you put your effort behind large SUVs, you will have a problem.
Take the current situation in the US, the world’s greatest consumer of motor vehicles. GM experienced a 12 percent drop in sales in May, compared to May last year. DaimlerChrysler was down 11 percent (SUVs down 14 percent) and FoMoCo down 2 percent (and their SUVs down 21 percent). Now look at Toyota and Honda. Toyota up 17 percent (with their car sales side up 25 percent) and Honda up 16 percent (and car sales up 21 percent). Spearheading the increased sales were the Toyota Yaris (called a sub-compact in the US) and the Honda Fit (called Jazz in Thailand).
The trend is obvious – truck (pick-ups) and SUVs down, while the small cars are on the increase. GM are trying to say that their cars are the most fuel-efficient, but the public are not buying that line. It is how many liters per week that you have to buy that counts. A small (less than 1.5 liter) engine uses less fuel than a 3 liter, no matter how fuel efficient the larger engine might be.

The incestuous nature of the automobile industry


Incest in the automotive industry has been on for years, right back to Detroit, and Ransom E. Olds, the first auto manufacturer there, in 1896.
Ransom E. was a bit of a character, but was building cars of his own design in Detroit, and called them Oldsmobiles. They sold well until a fire in March 1901 destroyed 10 of the 11 models on offer, leaving only one called the “Curved Dash Olds”, and the term “Fire Sale” was born.
Ransom wasn’t going to be held to ransom by fires, deliberate or otherwise and ramped up production of the Curved Dash vehicle, but the orders came in so fast he turned to others in the auto industry for help.
One of these was Henry M. Leland, who agreed to build engines for Olds. Keep the name Leland in mind (nothing whatsoever to do with the British Leyland debacle, I hasten to add). He will crop up again.
Now having a good supplier for his engines, Olds then ordered 2,000 transmissions from another machine shop owned by John and Horace Dodge. However, our John and Horace also went on to build engines, transmissions and axles for Henry Ford, who was also assembling cars in Detroit.
But back to Henry Leland. Henry improved the Olds engine, but Ransom wasn’t impressed at the work done by his supplier. Leland, however, believed it was a good engine and took the design to the board of Henry Ford. The directors liked Leland’s engine and decided to produce a car with Leland’s more powerful “Olds” motor. Leland suggested that this new car should be named after the French explorer who founded Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. So then cars appeared on the streets of Detroit, with a modified Oldsmobile engine up front, but called a Cadillac!
William C. Durant was another of the big players. A millionaire in the horse-drawn carriage business he met a chap by the name of David Dunbar Buick, who had made a fortune in the plumbing business, who was tinkering with cars, and like Ransom E. Olds called them after himself. Buick did not last long, selling out in 1903 to Benjamin and Frank Briscoe, who then on-sold it to J.H. Whiting, owner of the Flint Wagon Works. Whiting convinced Durant to drive the Buick car, which featured a valve-in-head engine. Durant liked it and promptly bought the company and reorganized it in 1904.
By 1908 Durant had formed General Motors, acquiring Oldsmobile and Oakland (later Pontiac), plus some supplier firms. He already had Buick, and Chevrolet was next. In the meantime he made Charles Nash, a young associate in the carriage business, president of GM. Name ring a bell? What about the Nash Metropolitan? More on Nash later.
Durant was a wheeler-dealer but some of his schemes were not profitable, and he was asked to leave GM. However, Durant had hooked up with Louis Chevrolet. Louis Chevrolet, who was a brilliant engineer, soon fell out with Durant and walked away from his own car company in a Gallic temper, leaving it with Durant who then ended up back with GM, bringing in Chevrolet!

Nash Metropolitan

Meanwhile, Henry Leland sold his Cadillac cars to the General Motors conglomerate, and after serving as an executive in GM, Henry went off and formed a company to build aero engines. This was called Lincoln Motor Company, but in 1920 began to build cars. The Lincoln became a competitor to the Cadillac, and eventually Henry Leland sold the Lincoln Car Company to Ford Motor Company. So one of Detroit’s favorite sons builds two quality cars, one of which he sells to GM and the other to Ford! With Durant back in GM, he fired Nash, who went off on his own, took over an ailing manufacturer to build his own cars, which he modestly named after himself. This company went on to become Nash-Kelvinator and in 1954 merged with Hudson to form American Motors. American Motors were in turn swallowed up by the Chrysler Corporation in 1987.
Chrysler! Yes, there’s another name in the incest stakes. Walter P. Chrysler was in charge of the Buick nameplate at GM while Nash was president, but soon fell out with the abrasive Durant. Walt took a job to manage the financially troubled Willys-Overland. Chrysler revamped Willys, bringing in an engineer called Fred Zeder, who had been with Studebaker.
Walter P. got Willys back on its wheels and was so successful at it that he was asked to steer the Maxwell company out of trouble. Maxwell cars went back to the early days of Ransom E. Olds, and Jonathan Maxwell was an associate of Benjamin Briscoe, who had at one time bought and sold the Buick Company. (Your head spinning yet? It should be!)
Crafty old Walt began building a new (Maxwell) car using an engine designed by Studebaker’s Zeder. Several models of the Maxwell with the Zeder engine were shipped to New York for the 1924 auto show called “Chryslers”. Later that year, the company was reorganized into the Chrysler Corporation, selling cars that had connections to Buick, Maxwell, and Studebaker.
It doesn’t end there. Remember the dodgy Dodge brothers? The brothers both died in 1920, but the grieving widows felt that the name should continue. The women asked Frederick Haynes, manager of the Dodge plant, to run the company. Under Haynes, the Dodge Brothers Motor Car company continued to grow and acquired Graham Truck in 1925, which became called Dodge Truck. So the brothers, Joseph, Robert and Ray Graham worked for Dodge, but then left to build the Graham-Paige car. Which perhaps could have been called a Graham-Dodge-Paige?
Dodge Brothers did well and in 1925 was sold to a banking conglomerate for USD 146 million. The widows had done well. But so did the bankers, who three years later sold Dodge for USD 170 million. And who bought it? The Chrysler corporation of course! And what happened after that? The German connection, but that is for another day.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what new car sold 100,000 units in the first 100 days of its release? It was the original Ford Mustang, and they are still great looking cars, especially the 7 liter engined models, and even today that model has great supercar performance.
So to this week. The famous Monza banked autodrome was rebuilt in 1955 for a special race. What was it? And who won it?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!